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Saleem: Every once in a while, I hear about a moment…this show stopping moment…in a person's life, that I find super fascinating. It’s the sort of thing that often changes the trajectory and purpose of the person's entire life, in a matter of minutes.
[music starts - Schubert String Quintet in C Major, second movement]
Saleem: Obviously that doesn't happen every day, but when it does, I try to notice what's going on there. And I have this theory that strong emotions are tied into this time-stopping, life-altering phenomena. For Ellen Dissanayake that moment happened when she was about 18 years old. She was a student at Washington State College in the 1950s. And she was sitting in the audience of a classical music performance.
Ellen: We had a chamber music group come and play string quintet by Schubert. And in the second movement, I found myself in tears. I was so emotionally moved. I had been led along by, uh, what one might call the unfolding of the music so that you’re listening ahead and trying to sort of see where the music is going. And it always seemed to go in a place that was more wonderful than I could have anticipated.
Saleem: This transporting emotional experience made Ellen start to wonder...
Ellen: What is emotion in music or what is there in music that caused that? And did other people feel the same thing? And if so, then what was it for? Why did it happen?
Saleem: At that point in her life, Ellen was curious about these questions but she didn't yet have the tools to fully investigate them.
Ellen: I've been playing music, piano all my life, but, um, so I majored in music because I, this was the fifties and girls did not go to college necessarily to prepare for a career.
Saleem: But she never forgot those questions. And eventually, Ellen would make a life where she could investigate these thoughts. She got married right out of college. Her husband was studying to be an ethologist, which is a zoologist who studies the behavior of animals in their natural environment.
Ellen typed his papers. And she went to parties and dinners where she met all his colleagues, where they talked about lots of interesting ideas. She began reading on her own in all those various fields, and got grants to keep reading - anthropology, biology, archeology - diving into all those texts. And she learned about the work of psychiatrist Daniel Stern. He wrote about how mothers and infants form a relationship from birth.
Ellen: They look into each other's eyes. And the mother talks in a very peculiar way to the baby.
Yasmin: Hey baby, what you doing?
Ellen: with a lot of ups and downs, louds and softs, fasts and slows, uh, big contours.
Yasmin: What you doing? Come here, chickadee! Come crawl over here, birdie.
Ellen: And at the same time has facial expressions where she opens her eyes wide, big smiles, nods, bobs her head. It's a little ritualized behavior that people don't do with anyone else except babies. But the mother was leading the baby, or the baby is interested in this kind of talk or interaction and watches it carefully and responds to it.
Saleem: It reminded Ellen of her experience back when she heard that Schubert movement, and that emotional response she’d had. It was as if the musicians were the mother and she was the baby, with her emotions being altered in response to the sounds and movements happening in front of her.
Ellen: So I thought that this might be the source of that. That mother infant interaction might be the source of our susceptibility to movement in time where someone else led you on this emotional journey through sound.
Saleem: I need to repeat that last part slowly cause the words have a sort of cinematic resonance to me: “susceptibility to movement in time, where someone else leads us on an emotional journey… through sound.”
[theme music fades in]
Saleem: A fun way to say what’s happening here is that this baby and its caretaker are together creating a vibe. They go on a little emotional journey together, through some sing-songy talking, moving their bodies, eye contact. But what does vibe really mean? We hear that word a lot these days: vibe check, shift in the vibe, catching a vibe, don't kill the vibe. Later on, we’re gonna talk to a scientist whose theories on vibe line up nicely with Ellen’s ideas about emotional journeys through sound.
[more theme music]
Welcome to More Than A Feeling. I'm Saleem Reshamwala. So here’s what we’re gonna do today. We’re going to talk to a bunch of people about music, try to make a little something, and by the end of this episode, we’re gonna try to find at least one definition of what we mean when we say the word vibe. And spoiler alert - it has to do with our emotions. It’s the last episode of season one of More Than A Feeling. Thank you for being with us this season. We’ll be right back in a minute.
Saleem: Welcome back.
Saleem: Before the break we heard about Ellen Dissanayake's moment of inspiration when she heard Schubert, followed by a second epiphany when she read about the unique way adults and babies interact. Well after those dual sparks of inspiration, she read and studied work from several academic areas, and eventually found herself with a unique specialization.
Ellen: I am a writer and a scholar and a lecturer about the arts in human evolution.
Saleem: Ellen told me that human babies are born, particularly underdeveloped and helpless when compared to other animals. So we need to be strongly bonded with our caregiver to survive from the moment we are born. And this particular style of interaction was like an emotional glue that forged that bond.
Ellen: We do have this helplessness that requires assiduous care for a long period of time. I claim this behavioral adaptation of making a mother and baby bonded so the mother will be willing to take care of this very demanding, helpless creature for not just weeks or months, but years.
Saleem: In the kind of terms that I often think about this as, you know, if you see a baby horse born, it's always amazing, just how quickly a small horse starts walking, you know…
Ellen: Yes, right.
Saleem: …starts seeming like a smaller functioning version of a large horse. Whereas for humans, a baby not connecting with their parent would be a complete disaster because human babies…really need to be strongly bonded with a parent.
Saleem: Ellen is saying these early interactions are a co-evolved form of communication. Both the baby and caregiver are adapting to each others’ needs.
Ellen: If the mother talks to the baby, the way you and I are talking, the baby will just turn off. The baby wants those ways of, of using your voice and your face and your body, the movement. The mother can kind of lead the baby to a different emotional state but there would be no reason to talk to a baby like that if the baby didn't like it.
Saleem: Is a way of phrasing that, that the baby is sort of rewarding the caregiver for talking baby talk or for singing by giving kind of, attention?
Ellen: Reward is a very good way to phrase it because it keeps you wanting to talk to your baby that way. People really like to do that and get into that groove with the baby.
Saleem: So that was the why but what about the how? That’s where Ellen's theory about the evolution of art comes in. She saw a few central elements in the interactions with babies: repetition, exaggeration, elaboration, and manipulation of expectations.
Ellen: Even before the baby can understand language, they are responding to the emotional parts of the mother's voice. If you think of certain things that the mother does to her face, voice, and body, she uses a lot of repetition, a lot of exaggeration. And then you eventually, you get them to uh laugh. I mean, if I think of doing peek-a-boo for instance, and that's manipulating the baby's expectation in time or the “Eensy Weensy, Spider” and things like that.
[clip of Yasmin playing peek-a-boo with Rahila]
Saleem: And the last interaction…Ellen calls that formalization. Basically taking messy, ordinary reality and making it special through little rituals. Like how a parent can ask simple questions over and over.
Ellen: So they are formalized [laughs].. although the mother doesn't know it. But then she stops and she'll go on and say something else
Yasmin: Are you swinging? Oh! Are you swinging? Are you going swinging?
Ellen: Now the baby, of course does not know what her words mean at all. The baby's responding to the musical, the prosodic, the ups and downs.
Saleem: But it’s not just this musicality of speech patterns. It's bigger than that. It's the sum total of all these interactions between caregiver and baby.
Ellen: It's the visual and the movement all as well as the vocal, all as one package. And these are what the arts do. Especially music.
Saleem: Hold that thought, cause it'll become an important one just a bit later. Cause, what Ellen is alluding to here is that she doesn't necessarily believe that these interactions for bonding are only for parents and children. It's a part of adult life, too…through our enjoyment of music. It’s built into the very reason we like it. And we will come back to that. But first…
Saleem: Ellen's been telling us about her theories. How there are interactive dynamics built into the way babies and parents communicate, which helps connect them strongly together. Part of the bonding is this give and take where the parent and child are actually shaping each others' emotions. Like when a parent sings about the suspenseful journey that the itsy bitsy spider takes up the water spout, before plunging down when the rain comes out. The parent is engaging the child emotionally to ensure their rapt attention. The child's attention encourages the parent to repeat it over and over. And their bond grows stronger and stronger.
Saleem: But parents can't spend every waking minute doing this. That would not be healthy. And they can’t be constantly feeding and holding a baby to give them undivided attention all the time. The parent has to get some grownup stuff done. One tool for that - the lullaby. And even as we were first thinking about lullabies, it occurred to me that I knew someone who would really appreciate getting her hands on a really effective lullaby right about now.
[Rahila coos and laughs]
Saleem: That is a very excited baby noise.
Saleem: I got on the phone with my sister Yasmin and her 9-month old baby Rahila.
Saleem: Uh, when is the last time that baby was asleep?
Yasmin: She's awake too long right now. She's definitely awake too long. [Saleem and Yasmin laugh] I need to put her back to sleep.
Saleem: And Yasmin wouldn't mind if it was easier – much easier – to communicate to Rahila something like...
Yasmin: I have a new life and it's wonderful. But these are all the things that I used to do.
[Saleem and Yasmin laugh]
Yasmin: And if you go to sleep, maybe I can do a couple of things.
Saleem: What are some of the things that you used to do pre-baby that you might be able to do if your baby goes to sleep on time?
Yasmin: Um, maybe watch a full movie, like a whole movie. Like from start to finish.
Saleem: Watch a whole movie. That’s great. Yeah. What else?
Yasmin: Maybe do some artwork. Sit down – be able to sit down and draw for like more than 20 minutes. Or, you know, like, feel like you could actually like finish a project.
Yasmin: Finish something, other than laundry and dishes. I would love to do something that's not domestic.
Yasmin: You know. I only want her to sleep for a week. If she slept for a week, I could go on vacation [Saleem and Yasmin laugh] by myself or with a friend. Just like a nice slumber like, a Rip van Winkle style…
Saleem: Rip van Winkle style baby move. I like that.
Yasmin: Yeah. yeah.
Saleem: So since I have access to all kinds of researchers on music and emotion, and I also have lots of musician friends, I offered to try and make Yasmin a lullaby that would let her express what she wanted to say but would also soothe Rahila to sleep.
Saleem: Well, I'm going to try and see if friends are around to make you a lullaby. I bet you I do. We’ll see if I can get done.
Yasmin: Okay. That would be awesome. That’d be amazing.
Saleem: Okay. Thanks Yazzie.
Yasmin: No problem! Say “bye!” By-eee.
Saleem: Bye. Bye Rahila. Later! Bye-bye.
[Saleem and Yasmin laugh while Rahila coos]
Saleem: That excited noise is so funny. Bye.
Saleem: My first stop was to call up a researcher named Connie Bainbridge, who has studied how babies respond to lullabies.
Connie: Music is a credible signal of attention and caregiving, that's showing you're safe. There's nothing else in an environment that's more important right now than you are.
Saleem: Connie told me that while singing in general signals to the baby to feel safe, the lullabies we sing tend to have a soothing effect that’s stronger than singing other types of music. Babies just have this innate response to lullabies. We've all heard lullabies and we know that they have to be kinda slow and sweet. But I asked Connie if there were any other qualities a really effective lullaby needed to have.
As part of her team’s research, they played dozens of lullabies in different languages to babies, and one thing they found, it doesn’t really matter what words you sing. Lullabies are so universally good at getting babies to relax that the language and lyrics could literally be anything. So it seems to me that an adult can maybe talk about their own worries, or fantasies, or whatever might be on their mind, and still lull that baby to sleep.
Connie: A lot of those songs can be very dark.
Connie: Even just thinking about like “Rock-a-Bye Baby” and then there's a baby falling or something in it, right?
Saleem: Yeah. Yeah.
Connie: So I don't think the baby’s listening to that and capable of interpreting it as, “Oh, the world's scary.” They're just enjoying the musical content.
Saleem: So we can just make wacky lyrics that entertain ourselves. Okay. Okay. I'll take that note. I'll take that note. What other advice might you give to someone who is trying to create a lullaby?
Connie: It does seem like repetition can be helpful too. I don't know if maybe that's to really like drive home, like “Here's a melody. I'm presenting this melody to you. Oh, do you remember this melody? Now you can relax.” And if you get a little too complicated with it, that might be a little too interesting also. If your goal is to get your baby to go to sleep, maybe you don't want to create the most epic symphony ever in that moment and play that to the baby.
Saleem: So to create our own soothing melody, I met up with some really talented musician friends in my backyard and handed them some cute instruments my family had lying around: a ukulele and a toy piano.
Phil: My name is Phil [strums ukulele]
Allie: My name is Allie J. [plays piano]
Saleem: We’re outside. There's some nacho eating. There's some birds chirping. There’s some neighbors chattin’. It's part of the soundscape. Durham, North Carolina.
Saleem: For some inspiration to start us off, I asked Allie and Phil to tell me the first lullabies that popped into their heads.
Allie: The one that comes immediately to mind is in Cinderella. “So This Is Love.” [singing] “So this is love. Mmmm mmmm mmm mmmm. So this is love. So this is what makes life divine…”
Saleem: Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Allie: Yeah. That's one that I remember, um, hearing growing up and then one that I also sing to my son Marley now.
Saleem: Phil brought up this iconic 80s movie moment. It’s from Three Men and a Baby.
[Phil’s story fades in]
Phil: ….where all of them are like trying to get this kid to sleep and they're like, [singing] “Oh doo dee dee do … Goodnight, sweetheart, well It's time to go…oh do doh.” None of them are singers, but like, they just…
[Phil’s story ducks under Saleem]
Saleem: So I told Allie and Phil the plan - that I wanted to see if they could create a lullaby for my sister Yasmin. One that she could sing to baby Rahila to help her sleep. And since the lyrics of a lullaby can be more for the benefit of the adult doing the singing – I hoped it would be a song Yasmin could also use to express her secret wish. That if Rahila would magically, safely, sleep for a whole week, Yasmin could finally do some of the things she used to love before…like finish the project she’d started. As parents themselves, Phil and Allie could relate.
Allie: That sounds perfect to me. What about you, Phil?
Phil: Yes, I'm, I'm super in it.
[Phil starts to play the ukulele]
Saleem: So we got right to it.
Phil: Alright. I really like this “finish something I’ve started” as being like the great opening line. I want to finish something…
Allie: And then ending on “but you have to go to sleep for this to happen.”
Phil: Okay I’m going to do it. [singing and strumming ukulele] Seven days from now I will be … doo doo dooo…
Allie: [sings] I won’t be standing over the sink and eating my baby's leftovers instead of dinner… [everyone laughs…]
Saleem: So I feel like we got kind of a base. We got like a…we have a hook.
Allie: I got it.
Phil: What do ya got?
Allie: Ok. [talks through lyrics] Seven days from now I’m going to finish what I started. Seven days from now I’m going to be so far ahead.
Phil: [snaps fingers] Yes! [Allie laughs] Yes!
Allie: Want to try it?
[Phil and Allie play intro on ukulele and toy piano]
Phil: Alright. [singing] Seven days from now, I’m gonna finish what I started.
Allie: [singing] Seven days from now, I’m gonna be so far ahead.
Phil: [singing] Seven days from now, I’m gonna finish one whole movie.
Allie: [singing] Seven days from now, as long as you stay here in your bed.
Saleem: I love it. I think y’all did it!!! I think that’s it. How do you feel?
Phil: We did it! We really did it!
Allie: Yep I love it.
Saleem: Thank you. I’m so, so happy.
Allie: I’m going to use this, actually.
Phil: I think that’s a good idea.
Allie: It’s a really great song.
Saleem: We’re gonna take a quick break. And after we come back, we’ll unveil Phil and Allie’s custom lullabye to Yasmin and Rahila. But first we’ll zoom out for a bit and think about the process of making and listening to music and how it helps us create a shared feeling of connection. Stay with us.
Saleem: Welcome back. It’s Saleem. I often wonder about whether most humans take for granted that it's a fundamental part of the human experience to generate and respond to music. These collections of sounds, expressions, and movement that have these qualities to them: repetition, elaboration, manipulation of expectations, all of that.
And a key piece of it seems to be a very compelling, and rewarding, give and take between the person making the music and the person perceiving it. There's something kind of ineffable in how they are making this experience together. And that starts to get us back to that word – vibe.
Saleem: And one place that word gets used a ton: the dance floor.
Zephyr: My name is Zephyr Ann Doles and I am a DJ and educator. And now currently a therapist.
Saleem: I know, right? I had to talk to a friend who’s a DJ and a therapist. She’s got a Masters in Social Work and has DJ’d at House of Yes, worked at Turntable Lab, all the New York things. Zephyr Ann told me about one time long before any of that, when she was dancing at a club in Boston where the night was coming to an end...
Zephyr: I remember it being 2:00 AM and the lights go on and there's a still completely full dance floor. No, one's really trying to go home.
Saleem: And then the DJ played an old song that somehow hit the crowd just right, and something powerful shifted. And she had this realization.
Zephyr: People are going nuts. It was just this warm-hearted moment of everyone smiling. And it was like, so joyful. And that memory in particular, I remember just being like, “Whatever this is like, I want to be a part of this.”
I think one of our deepest urges as human beings is for connection. And that connection can come in the form of some sort of shared emotional experience we're all sort of feeling. If not the same exact thing, something very similar in this moment that is a completely new experience to this time.
Saleem: I also spoke to another DJ friend of mine, DJ Rang. He’s been DJing for 15 years, locally and internationally. He talked about what it was like to be the one generating that experience for the crowd. Figuring out what they might need and getting them to engage and connect.
Saleem: Tell me about what you think people are feeling at each stage of the night. And how are you adjusting for the person who's walking into the room?
DJ Rang: So I guess, uh, early on, you're kind of trying to hit this moving target of, I just got here and you want to like, kind of keep it chill, but also like sexy. Like kind of vibin,’ groovin. Um, but you also want to catch each person's attention that comes in without like burning tracks for later in the night. So I think when people come in there is maybe like a bit of uncertainty, a bit of hesitancy where they're like, “Oh, you know, I don't know what to expect.”
Saleem: He knows instinctively that it's going to be a give and take. He can't just hit the crowd with something too new or something too fast right away.
DJ Rang: So basically maybe you're, you're playing, um, stuff, you know, is going to be crowd-pleasers versus, uh, tracks that you think may be a little more on the eclectic side that, you know, maybe more deep cuts that you're pulling out, trying to impress the crowd, trying to educate the crowd.
Saleem: And as that night progresses…
DJ Rang: Like I can play what I want to hear kind of mixed with what they want to hear. And between those kind of two points, you find your ideal, like give and take with the crowd where you might play a couple of gimmes, kind of a crowd pleaser. Everyone loves it. Good energy, infectious. That's gonna get at least your initial wave of people on the floor. And from there, you kind of work on building it up. Later on in the night. Folks are bumping. Energy is good. You have a crowd J Balvin and Skrillex “In Da Getto.” Fun track.
Saleem: What's the crowd gonna look like when that track is coming on?
DJ Rang: Ape shit. People are going to go bananas, fists up in the air, uh, your craziest dad moves on the dance floor. People throwing fishing poles and catching other people. Crap like that. [laughing]
Saleem: It does not matter if you were never a club kid or hitting up discos in the 70s...you've probably at least witnessed this at a wedding, if the wedding happened to have a good DJ. And there are some principles to what's happening on that dance floor, between the DJ, the music and the folks dancing - that are kind of predictable. And at least one scientist tried to figure out exactly why these human interactions are predictable and so heightened emotionally. Why is dancing together to a hot beat so dang fun?
Saleem: I'd like to introduce you to a scientist who is delightfully intellectual about this question:
Maria: My name is Maria Vitek. I'm a senior research fellow at the University of Birmingham in the UK. And I focus specifically on affective experiences of rhythm and dance music.
Saleem: See? “Affective experiences of rhythm and dance music.” I'm gonna interpret that as having fun while listening to good music.
Maria: So I actually, I'm not a DJ, but there are some really interesting musical skills that DJs portray and can tell us about some of the cognitive mechanisms of music making that we haven't really thought about before.
Saleem: Maria thinks humans are sorta made to get with rhythm. And similarly to the way our scholar friend, Ellen Dissanayake, described how babies and mothers interact - these DJ’s are manipulating our expectations through our innate understanding of rhythm. So Maria is someone who can explain exactly what’s happening when a good DJ gets a crowd of people vibing…
Maria: The way that our body moves is oscillatory. So when you're walking down the street, your arms are oscillating back and forth. Yeah, so there's something about periodic rhythms that seem to have some kind of quite significant status in human behavior. There is something about these regular patterns in our environment that humans have at least a propensity towards being attracted to. But that doesn't mean that any given person is going to enjoy electronic dance music.
Saleem: But when a group of folks are enjoying that music and dancing, they get in sync. There's a fun word for that. It’s called entrainment.
Maria: Entrainment is a way of explaining how we perceive rhythmic patterns and especially beat patterns in rhythm. Entrainment is the process of becoming synchronized, while synchrony is the word that describes the state of achieving that.
Saleem: So in a dance club, there's entrainment all over the place. The DJ is syncing the tempo of music tracks. Dancers are linking their body moves to the beat and each other. But entrainment is not just about dancing. There's entrainment off the dance floor as well, out in the world.
Maria: Entrainment also happens naturally in many biological systems. So the sleep/wake cycle is a kind of entrainment. We are entrained to the light cycle of the day and night. We sleep during the night and we're awake during the day. Entrainment also happens in the brain. So the way that neurons communicate with each other is through synchronous firing between different ensembles of neurons, across different parts of the brain. And there is some evidence suggesting that there's at least some meaningful correspondence between the ways neurons behave and the way we behave in musical activities.
Saleem: Got it. So I can tell you that, I personally very much relate to the way this happens on the dance floor - Is basically just catching a groove. Seriously, groove.
Maria: Musicians will often talk about groove as being a quality of music. So you're trying to make the music groove in a particular way. There is something about certain rhythmic qualities that make us want to move along to the beat. And that desire to move is a pleasurable feeling.
Saleem: And one way that we feel this is through a rhythmic structure called syncopation.
Maria: Syncopation is one kind of quite Western term, where you have a clear beat happening underneath the music. And then you have something in the music that's happening off-beat. So say you have a simple rhythm with four on the floor, so that means four beats per bar, equally spaced that kind of gives you the main beat. So when those four-beat positions, when you expect to have a note happen, but instead there's a rest. So there's a silence there. That's proceeded by a note just before it.
Saleem: Maria told me that another way of describing syncopation was as a kind of violation of expectations, and there’s different words for this in all kinds of cultures. So we expect beats in certain music to fall in a certain way, like four on the floor in electronic music. But syncopations are rhythmic patterns that kind of play with that expectation.
Maria: These patterns are quite pervasive in a lot of groove-based music. Like I said, they're not always referred to or thought of as syncopations. You could think of them as cross rhythms or clave patterns. In African music, you might refer to them as bell patterns.
Saleem: And this next part is what I find fascinating. Syncopation by definition opens up gaps in the rhythm. Think of what it sounded like when we removed pieces of that four on the floor beat. And one thing that can fill those gaps, is the movement of our body.
Maria: We can synchronize to the beat by moving into those open spaces. We become entrained to this expected pattern. And we can use our own bodies to kind of fill in those open spaces. And that I think the pleasure comes partly from that active participation in music. So now the music isn't just sound. Our bodies are part of music and the pleasure becomes this distributed emotion that is equally constituted by the music and by our bodies
Saleem: To kind of walk through a practical example that you mentioned four on the floor, which might, if you were to clap along to that, you might end up at just clap, clap, clap, as opposed to a clave in salsa, like a really basic clave, they might be like, clap, clap, clap. And so in those kind of gaps, our bodies want to move? Is that a correct interpretation of what you’re saying?
Maria: Yes, if you overlay the clave pattern on top of the four on the floor pattern, then you take away the four on the floor pattern, but you still perceive that underlying four on the floor pattern underneath, you can still feel where that beat is meant to fall. So it's not that those open spaces are actually silent. But it's just that it's this kind of suggestion of a space. So sometimes when you're filling in, you're not alone and filling in, there's already a bass drum, for example. Or a snare drum or something that's already there highlighting that underlying beat.
Saleem: That pulse. Yeah.
Saleem: So you’ve got this groove happening with the music and everyone is getting into it together. That feeling you get is what Zephyr Ann was describing when she experienced that end-of-the-night moment with the crowd all on the same level. Along with the DJ and everyone in that room, she was part of creating a vibe. It's something that Maria has been investigating to get at a really specific definition of: what it means when you're talking about vibe on a dance floor.
Maria: Vibe to me is a distributed emotion. It's an affective atmosphere that's specific to dance music experiences. The emotions aren't just distributed between people, but also is a kind of, even more widely distributed process that happens between music, between DJs, between dances, the space. And in some really kind of special moments can be moments of ecstasy and moments of really intense, pleasurable experience.
Saleem: Could you tell me about a time when you yourself have felt this distributed emotion in a positive way?
Maria: A few years ago, I went to a festival and… I enjoy going out to dancing during the day because it's nice to be outside and feel the sunshine. And yeah, there was a particular moment, I think it was just around sunset. And I think what made that moment special was obviously the music has a really nice soft feeling to it. It's still dance music and so it has a driving beat to it, but it's very, it's a very soft sound, a warm sound. And that perfectly fit this moment of sunset where the light changed. And I suppose I remember looking around and seeing other people around me having a similar realization and appreciation for the experience of the music alongside this change in light. And I think this is a really good example, in a way of how vibe isn't just emotion. It's not just what's happening in our heads. It's also what's happening in the world around us.
Saleem: In this way of thinking the world outside of our brains is actually a part of our minds and emotions. And this is more than just our bodies. It includes our connections to everything around us. All that adds up to emotions. This is where Maria’s analysis connects to what’s called Extended Mind Theory. It’s sorta like when someone says, “Get outta your head.” In a way, maybe your emotions already are.
Maria: And really we can think about emotions and mind as not being in the head at all, but rather being this process of engaging with the world. That is emotion. That is mind. It's not just what the brain is doing, but it's us being in the world and engaging with the people around us and the environment that we're in. You can think of vibe as being extended or distributed. It's not just in your head. It's also in the people around you on the dance floor. It's also in the temperature that changes as the sun goes down the horizon, the change of light, if we use the same example that I was talking about before. Vibe is a kind of distributed emotion that emerges through the interaction of humans with their environments.
Saleem: There's that parallel between how people sometimes talk about the blurring of self in a musical experience where, you know, you feel just connected to everyone in the room and lose yourself in the music.
Maria: The ways in which people describe these strong emotional experiences on dance floors often invoke this idea that these emotions are experienced as distributed. The extended mind theory is the model for how the mind works all the time. So it's not just on the dance floor that we experience Extended Mind. I think on the dance floor, when we have these really intense experiences, we feel it more. We see it. We notice it more than we do in everyday life. That communication that happens between an infant and a caregiver is a really good example of distributed emotion. I think a key thing is, as you say, to think of emotions as embodied, as relational. They’re in that interaction of us with other people. But to me what's important to remember about emotions is that they're, they’re in the world.
Saleem: So remember that lullaby that my friends Phil and Ally G wrote about a baby sleeping seven days? Well, I sent a recording to my sister Yasmin and she tried it out on her daughter Rahila.
[clip Phil and Allie J singing “Seven Days” lullaby]
Saleem: Yasmin says that Rahila liked the new lullaby. She calmed down and it made her sleepy.
[clip of Yasmin singing “Seven Days” to Rahila]
Saleem: But it wasn’t much more effective than the others. Rahila isn’t a great sleeper. But Yasmin did get a break one Saturday night when she hired a babysitter.
[clip continues of Yasmin singing]
Saleem: Now when I listen to this recording, I have all these other things to think about if I say that, Yasmin and Rahila are creating that vibe, just like we talked about at the top of this episode. It’s this shared emotional experience. Ok sure, it’s the polar opposite from any dance floor. But together they’re generating a bedtime ritual infused with safety and comfort through music. All the components: Yasmin’s voice, the darkened bedroom, the snoring baby, and that unique smell that babies have – they’re all together producing that vibe – an emotional interaction that is possibly part of Yasmin and Rahila’s minds.
I find something kinda beautiful in the idea that, in a kid’s bedroom or on the dance floor, we can actually see emotions happening as something in action. We usually think you can’t see emotions beyond facial expressions. Even then, we think they’re reflecting something inside other people. But out in the world these abstract things, like vibe, become visible and tangible. Maria Vitek describes emotions as distributed and a process in our relationships with others.
[start theme music under Saleem speaking]
In previous episodes, we saw how this can happen in beauty salons, between New Yorkers facing their fears or friends confessing their jealousy. We saw it among women with good reasons to be very angry, and at concerts among screaming fans. If emotions are something shared in the world outside our heads, maybe we don’t have to manage them all on our own and the difficult emotions aren’t a burden that any one of us has to bear by ourselves. Maybe thinking of emotions as outside of our heads means we can let all kinds of things go in our lives, and really enjoy being present in the moment we're in. Thank you for listening, y’all.
This is the end of season, one of More Than A Feeling. We’ll be back a little down the road. But in the meantime, keep the vibe going by checking out our Spotify playlist inspired by this season. See the link in our show notes or search for us on Spotify. And tweet us at @podfeelings – P-O-D-F-E-E-L-I-N-G-S with suggestions for songs to add to that list.
And if you want to tell us a story about an emotion you've been grappling with, send us a voice memo at email@example.com. You gotta spell out T-E-N percent. You might end up hearing yourselves on one of our future episodes. If you like the show, please give us that five star rating on Apple podcasts, it helps other people find us. And share the show with your friends! We sincerely appreciate it.
More Than A Feeling is produced by Will Coley, Reva Goldberg, Mark Pagán, Palace Shaw, and Kim Buikema. Our managing producer is Kimmie Regler and executive producer is Jen Poyant. Scoring, mixing, and sound design provided by Ultraviolet Audio. Production support for this episode was provided by Connor Donohue, Amber Cortes, Tom Lowe, Veer Mulraj at VM Studios, and thank you Phil Cook and Allie J for that lovely lullaby.
Our theme music was composed by El Michels Affair. Thank you to Danny at Big Crown Records. Music licensing help by Rebecca Grierson of SixtyFour Music. Fact checking for this episode provided by Diane Kelly. Special thanks to Jess Goldberg, Ben Rubin, Dan Harris, Matthew Hepburn, and Toni Magyar. This season could not have been created without you.
I'm currently feeling all the feelings. Thank you for joining us on this ride. And I'll talk to y'all soon.
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